It’s a clearance sale of historic proportion signaling how low the value of daily newspapers is sinking: The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Halifax Media on Thursday bought the 16 newspapers that formed the New York Times Regional Group for $143 million in cash. Each title went for barely $9 million, less than half the $20 million Halifax Media paid for the Daytona Beach News-Journal alone when it acquired that paper in April 2010–at discount from the $300 million price originally set by a federal judge in 2006.
“We are expecting the actual closing to occur sometime in the next few weeks,” Michael Redding, publisher of the News-Journal, wrote in an email to the newspaper’s 380-odd staffers Thursday, appending the New York Times’ press release on the sale. “I wanted you to hear the great news before it was published in our News-Journal publications.”
The New York Times acquired the Regional Group properties over several years. When it bought three of them from Cowles Communications in October 1970–The Lakeland Ledger, the Gainesville Sun and the Ocala Star-Banner–it paid $50 million in Times stock, the equivalent of $292 million in inflation-adjusted dollars. The acquisition included Family Circle magazine, WREC-TV, a Memphis television station, and a publisher of high school textbooks. Revenue for those properties for the nine months ending in Sept. 1970 was $36.3 million, or $212 million in inflation-adjusted dollars. The New York Times Regional Group’s entire revenue for the first nine months of 2012 was $190 million, a 7 percent decline compared with a year earlier. From 2008 to 2009, advertising revenue at the Times regional properties fell 30.2 percent.
This morning Times Co. stock was trading at $7.71 a share. The stock price has languished around $10 or below since the second half of 2008. It hit its all-time peak in 2002, when it reached $50 a share.
Most newspapers across the country reported the pending sale earlier this month when Halifax Media’s website prematurely posted a redesigned home page listing itself as the new owner of the regional chain. The News-Journal remained mum about the sale until Thursday. Today’s editions carry a two-line paragraph about the sale, and a reprint of the news release prepared by Halifax and the Times.
Employees at the former Times regional group’s papers got a starkly different sort of internal email. “How many employees will be retained by Halifax?,” went one question. Answer: “That decision will be made by Halifax, but they have committed to making offers of employment to the vast majority of employees. You will be notified within the next 48 hours whether the buyer will be offering you employment.”
“What is the process for determining who will be hired? Halifax has decided who it will hire. Again, you will be notified within the next 48 hours whether the buyer will be offering you employment. The New York Times Company has not been involved in that decision.”
The statements are adding to a considerable amount of quaking-in-the-boots across former Times properties, most of which have centrist to liberal editorial boards, as opposed to the News-Journal’s more reactionary tendencies since Redding’s take-over. Publishers in other papers, such as Jerome Ferson at The Ledger, are positioning themselves on the best of terms with their new boss, if through clenched teeth: “Today marks yet another milestone in our history ,” Ferson is quoted as saying in The Ledger. “As the door on one epoch closes, a new one opens, though our commitment to provide reliable, accurate and compelling news and information is unwavering.”
Immediately before acquiring the News-Journal in 2010, 48 employees were offered severance packages there in what proved to be the last in a series of large lay-offs dating back to 2007, reducing the paper’s ranks by half the 800 employees it had at the height of the housing boom. Several employees have since resigned or been fired in a mixture of natural turn-over and outright terminations.
The paper’s daily weekday circulation continues to decline (26.7 percent since 2008), as has circulation at the five New York Times regional papers in Florida–The Ledger in Lakeland (23.5 percent), the Gainesville Sun (26.3 percent), the Ocala Star-Banner (34.4 percent) and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (24.2 percent). The regional group also included the smaller News-Chief in Winter Haven.
The group’s newspapers have received three Pulitzer Prizes, including the 1971 Prize for editorials in The Gainesville Sun on the peaceful desegregation of Florida’s schools, the 1997 Prize for spot news photography for The Santa Rosa, Calif., Press Democrat for a photograph of a firefighter rescuing a teenager from raging floodwaters and the 2011 Prize for investigative reporting for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s year-long series on the challenges that Florida’s property insurance industry have posed for ordinary citizens.
“These news organizations have served as trusted institutions in their communities, delivering news and information that matter most to their readers,” said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company. “The sale of our Regional Media Group will enable The New York Times Company to continue our transformation to a digitally-focused, multiplatform media company.”
Redding’s quote in the release: “The purchase of the Regional Media Group reflects Halifax Media’s belief that a good newspaper is an essential part of any vibrant community. The strong local news coverage these papers provide represents not only an important community service, but, in our eyes, a good investment. We have been impressed with the newspapers’ reputations as well as the markets they serve. When you have the opportunity to purchase solid news products located in great markets, it is very compelling, and we are excited to have the Group join Halifax Media.”
The Regional Media Group comprises the following publications:
Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Fla.;
The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif.;
The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla.;
Star-News in Wilmington, N.C.;
Herald-Journal in Spartanburg, S.C.;
Star-Banner in Ocala, Fla.;
The Gainesville Sun in Gainesville, Fla.;
The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Ala.;
The Gadsden Times in Gadsden, Ala.;
The Courier in Houma, La.;
Times-News in Hendersonville, N.C.;
Daily Comet in Thibodaux, La.;
The Dispatch in Lexington, N.C.;
Petaluma Argus-Courier in Petaluma, Calif.;
News Chief in Winter Haven, Fla.; and
North Bay Business Journal in Santa Rosa, Calif.
The regional group has a combined circulation of 433,251 and 1,755 full-time employees. Both numbers are likely to decline.
Florida Newspapers' Weekday Circulation, 2008-2011
|Weekday Circulation||Percentage Decline or Increase|
|Daytona Beach News-Journal||83,272||67,937||63,902||61,023||-4.5||-26.7|
|South Florida Sun Sentinel||183,533||153,563||149,892||147,860||-1.4||-19.4|
|Florida Today, Melbourne||67,975||60,926||60,165||59,038||-1.9||-13.1|
|St. Augustine Record||17,056||16,034||16,086||16,701||+3.8||-2.0|
|St. Petersburg Times||268,934||240,147||239,684||240,024||+0.1||-10.7|
|Palm Beach Post||134,350||114,336||100,830||95,620||-5.2||-28.8|
|Fort Myers News Press||68,522||60,325||56,834||54,761||-3.6||-20.0|
|Naples Daily News||42,369||42,002||48,649||45,146||-7.2||+6.6|
|Treasure Coast News (Stuart)||89,448||76,863||66,850||66,989||+0.2||-25.1|